The Perfect Society, Danger, and Discovery

Perhaps there has never been revealing future than the one envisioned by Aldous Huxley in his book Brave New World written seventy-five years ago (described in this New Atlantis article). In it, Huxley describes a world where the only goal of society is the perfect happiness of its citizens. However, in reading his description of that society, we are left with a feeling of horror, emptiness, and dread. In elininating every obstacle to material human happiness, the perfect society leaves every individual life without meaning and accomplishment. The creatures of the Huxley's Brave New World are productive in the sense of manufacturing and endless stream of material goods. They are materially satisfied by consuming those goods in an endless stream. They are not only encouraged but trained from childhood to engage in an endless stream of sexual encounters. Without spouses or families to care for (people are grown in artificial wombs and raised by the state), life is without responsibility to others and lived only for one's own pleasure. And, when other sources of gratification cease to satisfy, these creatures can always take the perfect drug, soma, the dream cure for boredom and every other human misery, the ultimate escape from reality. You have to ask yourself, what is wrong with this picture? A religious person might declare this life as hedonistic life, but technically it violates none of the ten commandments, except perhaps for the one against adultery, but that violation is itself technical since those in Brave New World, like people in heaven, are not given or taken in marriage. Indeed, how is this life, except for the presence of God not very like a simplistic version of heaven? In some religions, heaven after all consists primarily of physical and emotional gratification. What does God add to this vision? God is, after all, a benefit that we cannot comprehend except as some parallel to the drug soma: endlessly entertaining, pleasing, and pleasurable. If the Brave New World is like heaven, why do most people react so negatively when reading this description of our possible future? The answer is important because it reveals so much about what is wrong with today's society. For a student of strategy, the problem with the Brave New Word is obvious. It offers us no opportunity to improve our position in life. It elminates all progress intentionally. It elminate all competition. It offers no opportunities of people to create anything new. Everyone is saved from the pain of losing by assuring that their are no winners. Instead, there is simply material wealth enough for everyone. Everyone is trained and conditioned from birth to want what they have and make what they want. But their is one think that they cannot have: the freedom to change the world. The Brave New World, like all simplistic visions of heaven, is stagnant by design. Real progress cannot be allowed. Such progress would inevitably cause disruption that would lead to at least some people's happiness. It would minimally destroy what people know and open up an unknown future. Progress means risk Because it is unknown, such a future would create fear, which is the opposite of happiness. In the Brave New World, change is merely a matter of fashion and new fashions are not even created. They are merely recycled from the past. They are new only to the current generation. (Does this sound at all familiar?) Real change, life-altering change, is forbidden. Children never truly grow up. They never become parents. Life is lived, not from the perspective of constant discovery but from the perspective of constant gratification. If Huxley had written today, he would have found the Internet a useful addition to his world, giving people an outlet to express themselves and publicize their lives and endless series of new loves and favorite songs without changing or affecting anyone or anything. Who wants a life without progress? Human beings are hardwired to desire competition, progress, and change. Every human life goes through a series of changes that are real and meaningful. We make mistakes, get hurt, and learn and grow in the process. The pains of our world inspire us. They make us want to find cures for disease and travel to other planets. They make us want to learn more about natural science, human nature, and our own abilities. Only by overcoming suffering, danger, risk, and pain can true joy be found. All progress entails risk and danger. In a world that seems increasingly set on eliminating all risks, real and imagined, people find their lives increasingly joyless. The joy of victory requires the agony of defeat. In a Brave New World, strategy is not necessary and even dangerous because progress is forbidden. What we teach here at the Science of Strategy Institute is meant only for those who want not just happiness but victory, especially victory over themselves.